The Regional and Branch Campus Administrators conference was held at Longboat Key, near Sarasota, FL, last month. The conference venue has to be one of the nicest anywhere, and the conference continues to provide an outstanding opportunity to meet people who help lead branch campuses of various types. Since the conference, I have been thinking about a couple of things that made a strong impression on me.
First, and even acknowledging what I have written in the past, I was struck by the incredible variety of branch campus models or "types" around the country. The campus deans from Ohio University provided a session that allowed the audience to respond to various questions about branch governance and other matters. Everyone seemed to enjoy the session, but what grabbed my attention was how difficult it is even to ask questions that make sense to everyone. With so many community college branches, upperdivision/graduate branches, two-year feeder university branches, and branches with a comprehensive mission, common ground isn't that easy to find. Governance and budget variations, among other things, add to the challenge.
I have a growing sense that an important dimension of "branchness" to consider is whether the campus is located in a rural or more urban setting. In the context of my last couple of posts, it seems to me that a branch in an urban area, with a reasonably large number of students (say, more than 2000), will be in a better position to adjust to challenges from online competitors. Urban campuses should be able to segment their market and deliver services and a range of programs--face-to-face, online, or blended-- that are valued by each segment. Rural, smaller campuses may find the competitive environment more difficult to address, as the audience for traditionally deilvered classes becomes smaller and the range of available online programs expands. (Rural campuses may be less hampered, and even enhanced, if their infrastructure costs are low, and if they are tied to institutions that support extensive online or blended delivery.)
Related to the difficulty of understanding the range of branch campuses and missions, the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators (NABCA) has established a task force on branch campus research, chaired by Phyllis Bebco, of Florida Atlantic University. The task force will be discussing and developing an agenda for research that seems most urgent or promising. You can check out all of NABCA's activities at http://www.nabca.net/.
On a different subject, I have the impression that more institutional leaders are beginning to recognize that their branch campuses should be included in a comprehensive strategic approach to growth. At the conference, I was especially impressed by our keynote speaker, Joel Hartman, who is Vice Provost for Information Technologies and Resources , at the University of Central Florida. UCF appears to have done an excellent job of developing a strong strategy to make "learning available on demand," through their various campuses and a strong emphasis on online and blended delivery. At UCF, it was reported, 55% of regional campus credit hours are online or blended. The financial advantage of online and blended delivery also has been strong, which is surely an important consideration in these difficult budget times.
For whatever reason, I am hearing more stories about presidents and other institutional leaders, who recognize the enrollment growth and revenue enhancement that branches, especially those that make powerful use of technology, can bring, while advancing an important educational mission. One implication may be a move away from treating branches as "colonies," at some institutions, and if those are the ones that thrive in the future, I am very much okay with that!